Day 3 was yet another long day at CES. Notable visits were with Dish Network, Intel, LG, Philips, Scientific Atlanta, Pioneer and to CNET’s Best of CES 2006 Awards. Starting from the end, CNET announced that the best of show product was the Creative Zen Vision, essentially a multimedia player. While we’re hardly saying that this product isn’t cool, we thought it was a little disappointing that this was the *best* of the show, given that these types of devices have been out there in the market for years. There were numerous other newer, edgier, interesting gadgets that featured more cutting-edge technologies that would have made worthy winners. But that’s just our opinion. After all, the People’s Voice Award went to the Pioneer Inno, which is an MP3 player that is XM Radio ready. You can see all of the winners at CNET’s CES site.
Onto the products. First up, Intel. Intel was strongly featuring their VIIV (rhymes with “live”) technology, but we thought that their really cool new product was the Centrino Duo – dual-core CPUs for mobile platforms. On display were laptops from Lenovo (ThinkPad), Panasonic, Fujitsu, Packard Bell and Gateway that are shipping in a matter of days and weeks. Dual-core is here, baby! Currently, dual-core is really best suited for Windows XP, but we imagine that the Linux community will be quick to optimize for dual-core. For a demo, we saw a laptop playing a hi-def movie, with the Windows Task Manager’s CPU performance window showing 2 CPUs (cores in this case). The load was spread evenly between the 2 cores. The video performance was still fine even when another task was kicked off to sync content to an MP3 player. Intel is quoting numbers of 70% performance improvement over comparable single-core CPUs and 30% reduction in power usage. The Centrino Duo technology also features adaptive power usage where parts or whole cores will shut down if they are not needed. With the reduced and adaptive power consumption, some laptop manufacturers are claiming 5 hour battery life.
VIIV is not a specific Intel product, but one of their umbrella terms that covers a group of technologies and products. Products supporting VIIV are able to interoperate, and are geared to the consumer. VIIV is based around the Windows Media Center PC, and requires it, plus a dual-core CPU, at least a 945 chipset and a LAN component. We saw instant-on media PCs, and some content that was VIIV-enhanced.
We spoke with Dish Network, who told us about their big push of High Definition programming in 2006. They claim that they will have the largest selection of HD channels of anyone; they will have 25 HD channels by February, including 15 VOOM channels. And of course, they will be rolling out new HD-compatible receivers, including the dual-tuner, 180 hr (25 hrs in HD) DVR, ViP622. What was really new for Dish were the PocketDISH devices made in conjunction with Archos. Dish/Archos have 3 handheld media players that play MP3, WMA and WAV files as well as Dish programming. The models come in 20, 30 and 40 GB sizes with LCD displays of 2.2″, 4″ and 7″ respectively. Now, if these devices were wireless and could run the Sling PC application, that would be *really* cool! Incidentally, I was really surprised to find out that Dish offers over 116 premium International channels in over 25 languages. I knew they had foreign language channels, but not that many.
Sticking with HD and set-top boxes, Scientific Atlanta also announced a new box: a HD receiver with DVR and built-in DVD Recorder/Player. Additional features on the MCP-100 include dual-tuners, 160GB hard drive, a SATA interface to expand capacity, HDMI output, multi-room playback, DRM management, plays most DVD formats, and a dual-layer DVD burner. Unfortunately, the MCP-100 records in raw MPEG-2 format, so the burnt discs are not portable to other standard DVD players. Scientific Atlanta is still deciding whether or not to support Blu-Ray or HD-DVD (or both). Keep in mind that Scientific Atlanta doesn’t sell directly to the end consumer, but mainly to the cable operators, so bug your local cable company for the new boxes.
LG Electronics showed off some amazing LCD screens, including a couple of 42″ LCD screens with 3D effects. These can’t really be accurately described; they had to be seen to be understood. But let me try: without the need for special glasses, these screens generated picture that pushed some objects to the background and others to the front with the right amount of lighting and brightness to make it appear that you were looking at objects with depth between their positions. It wasn’t clear if these were just prototypes of not, but I imagine they were. Also, on display was a technology dubbed MPIT (Motion Picture Improvement Technology) that reduced blur in pictures in motion. LG set up 2 screens side by side with the same video, only one of which included the MPIT feature. The difference was stunning. Again, something to be seen. I don’t think I want to watch a regular TV any more.
We visited with Philips who showed us a number of new products. The highlight was the four-sided Ambilight FlatTV screen. If you don’t know about Ambilight, it’s a proprietary Philips technology where they produce ambient light from the sides of the TV based on the dominant colors on the screen itself. The result is an ‘extended’ viewing field and reduced eye strain. The 4-sided model that we saw was quite attractive – it featured a back ‘canvas’ that the ambilight illuminated, and that the main screen was mounted on. It gave the illusion that screen was floating. Also notable were the 32″ and 42″ MiraVision LCD TVs. They convert into fully reflective mirrors when switched off, or you can split the screen into 2, with only half of it displaying programming. The MiraVisions also have replaceable frames, so you can get one to match your decor. Philips also showed us their Streamium line of wireless music centers. Essentially, the music centers can suck in your CD collections and store them in MP3 format, and then wirelessly stream them via 802.11 to a playing station somewhere else in your house. While this is a good (and expensive) out of the box product, there are other cheaper do-it-yourself solutions out there.
Sony gave us a huge list of new products, but we really wanted to hound them about their LocationFree TV products and tell us how it stacked up against the Sling Box. Unfortunately, Sony didn’t send their most knowledgeable folks to the show and we weren’t able to get great answers. However, we’re going to do our own research and write up a comparison at some point.
Last but not least, we visited Jensen to check out their intellicar products. Essentially a PC for your car, the intellicar products are slick, expensive mini PCs for your car. They are mostly geared for multimedia, but you can surf the Web if you wanted and install applications, since it’s a PC running Windows. These PCs are full-featured, including USB ports, DVD drive, LCD monitor, wireless LAN, touchscreen and lots of memory.